The Mets are Zack Wheeler, and Zack Wheeler is the Mets. Together they are confident one instant, confounding the next. They can look terrific when all the parts are working together. And they can look positively terrifying when they are not.
All of that was on full display across 9 ½ hours of baseball Tuesday, when the teams combined for 31 runs, slipped on more than a few banana peels and split their first encounter of the season, the Yankees winning 12-5 by day, the Mets 10-4 by night.
Wheeler’s fastball was humming early on in the first game, and if you didn’t know any better you’d have thought the “4” at the start of his ERA was a typo; except then it wasn’t. He was mowing through the Yankees, making them look silly; until he wasn’t.
The Mets? Same deal. There are times when you see all the possibilities, when the rotation goes through a turn taking daily turns throwing high-end stuff at opponents (and then it doesn’t), when the batting order looks deep and imposing and able to score runs in bunches every day …
And then it doesn’t.
Wheeler isn’t Jacob deGrom. He isn’t Max Scherzer. But with the exception of the 10 starts that ended last season, his career has been a puzzling study: It often feels like he ought to be better than he is. It often seems like the numbers next to his name don’t completely represent his talent. Because they don’t. Because they never seem to.
The Mets? Same deal. They aren’t the Dodgers. They aren’t the Astros. They aren’t even this still-reduced version of the Yankees. But with the exception of a few streaks and spurts, it feels like their record, and their place in the National League firmament, ought to be better than it is. It’s often hard to tell about the Mets if they are overachieving or underachieving to be as relentlessly mediocre as they’ve been.
The Mets are Wheeler.
Wheeler is the Mets.
“He always has good stuff,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said between games of the doubleheader. “He has always had good stuff. And he will always have good stuff.”
There is little question Wheeler had something going, easy as he blitzed through the first inning. Still, staked to a 4-1 lead, he gave up a run in the third, five in the fourth, and two more in the fifth. That’s nine runs, five earned. That’s hard to come to terms with given how overpowering he looked so much of the day.
“I made some pitches when I had to, and I left some balls over the plate,” Wheeler said, sounding every bit as perplexed as everyone else. “My slider wasn’t very good today, my change-up wasn’t working. My fastball was the only thing that was working.”
He didn’t get a lot of help, no. Amed Rosario never quite made it to second base to finish off a force play, and that cost a run. Todd Frazier made a wild throw that should’ve been the third out of the fourth inning and instead extended the inning long enough to let three unearned runs score. There were a couple of dinks and dunks.
But there was also a game-tying blast off an inside fastball from Gio Urshela and a game-breaking one a few batters later off a hanging slider by Luke Voit, and those were every bit as much a part of Wheeler’s day as the hard luck. Voit’s three-run homer, which gave the Yankees a 7-4 lead, delivered three runs that will never be reflected in Wheeler’s ERA. But it happened.
“I feel fine,” said Wheeler, who left the game with a 4.87 ERA. “The results just aren’t there.”
“They will be,” said Callaway, whose team left the day as it started it, one game under .500, and who continues to push a relentlessly positive agenda because it isn’t just Wheeler who can tease and taunt and test, but the other 24 wearing Mets uniforms, too.
“We’re gonna be all right,” Callaway said, not for the first time.
The bewildering pitcher and bamboozling team will continue forward in lockstep, each hopeful that better days lie ahead even as the days keep melting off the calendar. It isn’t early anymore. It’s June. There are fewer than a hundred games left. What we see are no longer small-sample aberrations, but rather the likely place where both seem destined to be.
The Mets are Wheeler. Wheeler is the Mets. It feels like that ought to be a good thing. If that’s ever going to be the case, if that’s ever going to really be a very good thing, that had better happen soon. Very soon.
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